The Many Pitfalls of DIY Estate Planning

Online resources for do-it-yourself estate planning – particularly DIY wills – are infinite. Many sites like LegalZoom promise ease-of-use, low costs and expedience. That doesn’t mean they are a good idea.

Put it this way: Would you perform surgery on yourself? Would you defend yourself against criminal charges in court? Maybe you would risk attempting repairs on your own leaky faucet despite no plumbing experience, but you know there is a decent chance you’ll end up with a huge hassle and the need to pay a professional to fix it anyway. Estate planning is rife with potential pitfalls, and fixing a botched job is often much messier – and costlier – than you can imagine.

Your estate is the culmination of your life’s work. It includes your savings, your assets, your debts and your last wishes. A good Central Florida estate planning attorney can tell you that a fill-in-the-blanks record is not a “plan” because it fails to take into account the uniqueness of your situation. What’s more, the formalities of what constitutes a valid document can vary from state-to-state. How can you be sure that what you’re printing from a random website is going to meet the precise – and current – requirements of your state? Sites on the internet may provide you with documents, but they aren’t a replacement for sound legal advice from an experienced and qualified estate planning lawyer. In fact, it could make the situation worse. 

The main problems that can arise with a Florida DIY last will and testament include:

  • Lack of additional documents for an array of legal purposes. Every last will and testament should, at minimum, also have a durable power of attorney and a health care directive (living will with stipulation of healthcare surrogate). A one-page last will and testament isn’t going to offer your spouse or relatives insight on how to handle your affairs if you’re disabled or what kind of care you’d prefer in a medical crisis. Most people don’t realize they don’t necessarily have a right to act on behalf of their spouse, parent or child solely because of that relationship. These other documents are necessary to effect that power.
  • Failure to expect the unexpected. DIY wills and other estate planning documents don’t have contingency plans. Our Lake Mary estate planning attorneys know the importance of planning for as many of those possible “what-if” scenarios as possible. For example, what if your beneficiary passes away before you, but you’re already incapacitated? Helping you designate a contingent beneficiary can help eliminate that kind of guesswork. We can also help you plan for an unexpected bankruptcy, divorce and other unfortunately all-too-common life events.
  • Overlooking the legal formalities. Just to offer one example: F.S. 732.504 stipulates who may – and may not – serve as a witness to a Florida will. If one of your witnesses doesn’t meet the criteria, it could disqualify your will entirely, or at least leave it open to challenge. For example, if one of your witnesses is an “interested party” – i.e., someone who is benefiting by receiving a portion of your estate – this could create the presumption of undue influence. An estate planning attorney will understand such nuances and help you avoid these potential pitfalls.

Although there is nothing technically stopping you from drafting your own will, consider at least consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine whether there are elements of your estate plan that might warrant a more detailed approach.

Contact the Lake Mary estate planning attorneys at The Chidolue Law Firm, serving Orlando and Lake Mary, by calling (407) 995-6567 or email us.

Additional Resources:

Avoiding Probate Court Litigation, Fall 2008, Vol. 5, No. 1., By Karen S. Gerstner, The American Bar Association

More Blog Entries:

REVISITING YOUR FLORIDA ESTATE PLANNING AFTER DIVORCE, April 29, 2018, Lake Mary Estate Planning Attorney Blog

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